Climbing the Necessity Scale

Why don’t people downsize, cut back on work, and spend more time in leisure? By the standards of yesteryear, many people could earn the necessities of life without working full time.

One reason is that what was once considered luxurious comes to seem necessitous. Things climb up the necessity scale.

Pew Research asked (in 2006) whether a range of 14 consumer items are luxuries or necessities. Over time, all climbed up the necessity scale from luxury to needed. The biggest climber of all: the cell phone.

Here‘s the result.



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2 responses to “Climbing the Necessity Scale

  1. Some of these items probably did become a necessity (for a fairly loose definition of necessity) over the time period, such as cell-phone and home computer. Once the usage of new communications technologies is sufficiently widespread, those without them experience real costs in terms of their employability, social life, consumption possibilities etc. The same is true for cars for those in rural areas of the US, I would hazard, where the whole transport infrastructure is set-up for a situation of widespread car ownership.

    Part of the ‘climbing necessity scale’ is due to certain goods becoming normative within a social setting and thus regarded as ‘necessary’, yes. But new consumer goods can become real necessities due to the network externalities they generate. Keep up or face social exclusion.

    • Though I believe there a slight decline in the proportion of US teenagers with a driver’s license — perhaps now, in the mobile phone age, cars are less of a necessity for finding a mate than previously?

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